In one of the most astonishing and farcical political moments of recent decades, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken the unprecedented step of adjourning parliament, at Peter Dutton’s request, to head off the chaos around his leadership.
At 11.35 this morning, the government’s Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne, rose and moved that the house be adjourned, preventing question time later today and the opportunity for the opposition to test the government’s numbers under Turnbull, Dutton, or anyone else — such as Scott Morrison, mooted as a possible leadership contender if the Prime Minister doesn’t stand.
With a majority of just one, and Coalition backbenchers threatening to move to the crossbench if Dutton succeeds, there are real questions over whether the government could avoid defeat on a vote of no confidence today, sending the country to an election. Unsurprisingly, Labor savaged the decision, with Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, Bill Shorten and Deputy Tanya Plibersek each hammering the government, whose members sat shattered opposite them.
It’s still unclear how Turnbull will deal with the loss of Mathias Cormann and a slew of ministers this morning — Mitch Fifield, Angus Taylor, Steve Ciobo, Greg Hunt and others — whether he will fight or try to make room for Scott Morrison to build the numbers to stop Dutton — which could mean stringing this chaos out until next week. Either way, the staggering shuttering of the House of Representatives will ensure the Turnbull government ends on unprecedented dysfunction. It’s an extraordinary day in Australian democracy.